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Sexual Assault Awareness Week emphasizes prevention, response

Mira Yusef, Executive Director of Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa, speaks as a panelist at a Sexual Assault Awareness Week event.

Mira Braneck

With an emphasis on intersectionality, diversity and accessibility, the Grinnell Advocates hosted Sexual Assault Awareness Week in an effort to help inform and educate the campus about sexual violence.

Mira Yusef, Executive Director of Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa, speaks as a panelist at a Sexual Assault Awareness Week event.
Mira Yusef, Executive Director of Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa, speaks as a panelist at a Sexual Assault Awareness Week event.

Associate Chaplain and Rabbi Rob Cabelli, who spearheaded the organization of the week-long event, sees the week as a way to address and shift the culture of the campus.

“The nature of what we’re trying to do with sexual assault awareness week is help create part of the underpinning of awareness that will help be one of the pieces of larger culture and climate change on campus,” he said.

Working with the CRSSJ, the Office of Health and Wellness and the Office of the Title IX Coordinator, the Advocates held three all-campus events. “Walking the Labyrinth,” a meditative activity, allowed students to reflect while reading poetry and walking through a maze. “The Big Box” project allowed students the opportunity to examine the gender binary and its role in sexual violence in a creative and thought-provoking way.

The major event was a panel held on Monday night, entitled “Community, Leadership and Change.” This panel featured a diverse group of activists from around Iowa. Professor Lt. Col. Glen Keith, Military Science at University of Northern Iowa; Mira Yusef, Executive Director of Monsoon United Asian Women of Iowa; Avi Deol, Executive Director of Transformative Healing at IowaCASA and Austin McKenney ’15, a Violence Prevention Specialist at Crisis Intervention Services.

“I think it’s one of the most diverse panels that we’ve had,” said Mari Holmes ’17. “They bring a lot of unique perspectives that I think the Grinnell community needs to hear.”

Advocate and panel moderator Lisa Stern ’16 thought that the panel helped bring new voices to campus.

“I’m really satisfied,” Stern said. “I think that all the speakers were really eloquent. They came from really diverse backgrounds, which is sort of what we were hoping for—this varied perspective, [to] bring some more intersectionality that I think previous weeks and activities have been lacking.”

The week also aimed to raise awareness of student resources on campus.

“I think people feel really discouraged with the system of reporting, with the Title IX process, and feel that victim survivors aren’t getting support, and that there aren’t safe places on campus for people to discuss it,” said Grinnell Advocate Jane Jordan ’18. “The reality is a lot of student leaders are mandatory reporters, and as advocates we’re one of the only student resources, peer resources, that is totally confidential.”

Dean of Religious Life and Advocates Advisor Deanna Shorb echoed Jordan and hoped that this week both raised awareness and gave survivors the tools they need to find help.

“[We want to] try to make people aware that sexual assault happens, that we think it’s preventable [and] that people need tools to try to be aware of how to interrupt behavior that looks like it may be nonconsensual or looks like it may lead to behavior that is nonconsensual or assault,” Shorb said. “[People] need to be aware of those tools, but they also need to be aware of response resources. This institution makes a promise that it will be a safe environment, so we need to try to help people feel safe and truly be safe.”

Shorb and Cabelli hope to continue hosting events throughout the rest of the semester. They hope to bring back one of the panelists, Yusef, to run a workshop in April, and continue to offer all-campus bystander trainings on what to do if one is in the position of witnessing nonconsensual behavior occurring.

Moving forward, students and advocates hope the week will spark continued discussions about how to make positive changes on campus.

“I think students are very receptive and think [sexual assault awareness] is important,” Jordan said. “I also think that the climate on campus is that people are upset, and we need to move it towards a phase of ‘What can we do next?’ and have more productive conversations.”

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